Life as a meme: The story behind Gavin, the internet’s favorite six-year-old

Gavin's funny faces have captured the attention of internet users and celebrities alike.

Vine-famous Gavin Thomas with is uncle, Nick Mastodon, on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 at his grandmother's home in Eden Prairie. Gavin became famous for his reaction faces.

Ellen Schmidt

Vine-famous Gavin Thomas with is uncle, Nick Mastodon, on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 at his grandmother's home in Eden Prairie. Gavin became famous for his reaction faces.

Maddy Folstein

You might know him as the meme kid, the boy with the lizard or the six-year-old from Vine.

But his name is Gavin. He lives in Minnesota, his favorite food is french fries and he wants to be a swim instructor when he grows up.

Unlike most children his age, fans often stop Gavin on the street to take pictures with him. His celebrity is thanks to the Vines he’s made with his uncle, Nick Mastodon.

“I was working at the Apple store at the Mall of America, which is not as exciting of a role as it may sound,” Mastodon said. “So one day, I put in my two weeks. The day I left was the day Vine was released.”

Mastodon immediately downloaded the app and started creating his own six-second-long videos. A few months later, Gavin made an appearance.

As they are today, Gavin’s cameos were candid and unrehearsed.

“It all started when Gavin was 2 1/2,” said Gavin’s mom, Kate, who asked to be identified by first name only for privacy reasons. “He added Gavin in — I think he was just playing with stickers.

“People started getting receptive to him around the same time that Nick was getting well-known. And then there was a Vine that came out where Gavin was holding a lizard,” Kate said.

“And it bit me!” Gavin piped up.

The Vines of Gavin are simple and unadorned. He plays with Nick, Nick says something funny and Gavin reacts.

“I would say that he stands on his own more than most memes probably,” Mastodon said. “Some of his biggest Vines we just recorded inside the app itself. We’d do a couple takes of something, but most of the time, I’d see something funny that was about to happen and I’d start to film.”

Gavin’s reaction memes, however, are typically screenshots from Nick’s Vines.

“People are always like, ‘Oh, I love your memes!’ And I’m always like, ‘Oh, I don’t make them. I’m a 33-year-old mom from Minneapolis,’” Kate said.

Gavin’s popularity has skyrocketed since his humble beginnings on the app, allowing him to meet multiple celebrity fans.

“When the summer Olympics were going on, [USA women’s gymnastics team members] Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez picked Gavin up and were tweeting about him,” Kate said. “And then Gavin got to see his girlfriend [Camila Cabello] at the Jingle Ball concert.”

“No, I have five girlfriends,” Gavin said. “And at the concert, I took a hundred pictures.”

Cabello later posted one of those pictures with the caption “[with] my big strong boyfriend Gavin.”

For a six-year-old boy with celebrity fans and thousands of internet followers, Gavin is surprisingly humble. He spent most of his interview playing with two rubber ducks or throwing a pinecone against a wall.

“Sometimes people will ask for pictures, or we will volunteer for pictures. But we will always leave it up to him,” Kate said. “A lot of the time he’ll ask me to go up to somebody and ask them if they know him from Vine. Sometimes he’ll be a little shy, though.”

“I’m not shy,” Gavin responded. “The big kids from fifth grade — they know me from Vine. They think I’m famous.”

Now that Vine has shuttered, Gavin’s fans wonder about his plans for the future. Some worry he’ll disappear from the Internet altogether.

But his mom assures them there’s nothing to fear. “Gavin is really into watching unboxing videos and kids playing with toys on YouTube, so Gavin wants to create his own YouTube channel,” Kate said.

And if you’ve ever watched The Ellen DeGeneres Show or Jimmy Kimmel’s “I Told My Kid I Ate All Their Halloween Candy,” you’ll know that there are plenty of funny kids on the Internet.

But Gavin and his reactions are something special.

“I’ve seen people comment, ‘Oh, he’s just a kid, just a funny kid.’ And yeah, a lot of kids could do well if captured in the right way,” Mastodon said. “But I think there’s just something about him that people are drawn towards. […] It’s almost like he’s a little man.”